When Grassley said he was opposed to a public insurance option; when he vowed to vote against a health care bill cleared by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on a party-line vote; when he promised to oppose legislation supported by House Democratic leaders; when he said he wont support any Senate Finance Committee compromise that expands Washingtons reach; and when he pushed for tort reform, the cheers were almost deafening.
Iowas senior Senator is no stranger to town-hall meetings. Grassley visits all 99 Hawkeye State counties every year; he estimated that after Wednesdays events hed held 2,846 such forums since he was first elected to the Senate in 1980. But Grassley was nevertheless a little surprised by the reaction he received from constituents at Wednesdays gatherings.
Theres more unanimity of opinion against doing anything, than what I thought. And, the intensity is greater than I expected, Grassley said during a brief interview with Roll Call.
Grassley has a long history of bipartisanship, both as a member of the majority and the minority, and his record of political compromise is one he is fond of touting. He and Baucus have sided together numerous times on legislation, sometimes meeting the ire of their own parties.
But in Grassleys opening statements at the four town-hall meetings and in comments during the ensuing question-and-answer sessions, he made clear where he stood.
Im not going to do anything thats going to nationalize health care in America, Grassley said in Afton.
A few dissenting voices were heard Wednesday.
In Adel, an elderly man wearing an Obama baseball cap, who said he supports the president but has also donated to and voted for Grassley in past elections, asked the Senator to reconsider his opposition to the public insurance option, as did some others at the each of the town halls. In Panora, a self-described Democrat asked Grassley to dispel Republican misinformation about the Democrats health care proposals.
In Afton, a complaint about excessive insurance company profits and high premiums received a healthy applause.
In Winterset, a community in Republican-leaning Madison County, Kate Bason carried a two-sided, homemade sign that read Public Option; Reform Now. The 50-something environmental inspector said in an interview that Grassley isnt the straight-talking Senator she remembers from years past.
During the town hall Bason attended, she did her best to rebut concerns of the mostly conservative audience about the government takeover of the health care system a worry that many expressed that day.
Id like to hear the truth, Bason said before the Winterset town hall. Id like to know how [Grassley] thinks that health care for profit can ever work the motive is wrong. Id like him to explain that. And I would certainly like to hear why he keeps pushing the Republican agenda that this is all about the government taking over everybodys rights. Its absurd. Id like to hear him explain why hes reading the Republican memos instead of being the straight thinker that hes always been.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.